Part Two of AMERICAN FREETHOUGHT
This second episode opens with a montage of early nineteenth-century quotes which illustrate the enmity that faced Thomas Paine and the freethinkers he inspired. We follow the rise to prominence of immediatist abolitionists Elizur Wright and Lucretia Mott and the formation of the Christian publishing organization the American Tract Society which flooded the nation with religious material. The unholy alliance between slavery and the Christian church is laid bare. While Paineʼs "Age of Reason" becomes the freethinkersʼ bible, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organize the first womenʼs rights assembly at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. “Elizabeth Cady Stanton viewed the Bible as not the word of God,” asserts Professor Faulkner who adds: “It was being used to harm women and keep women down rather than lift them up.” Charles Darwinʼs publication of "On the Origin of Species" in 1859 is championed by freethinkers and condemned by Christians. Viewers learn about leading freethinkers who opposed the efforts by Christians to legislate God into the Constitution. We become acquainted with Shaker-turned-freethinker D.M. Bennett and Colonel Robert Ingersoll, known as The Great Agnostic. The rise to power of morals crusader Anthony Comstock and his push for puritanical obscenity laws to censor free expression is chronicled. The malevolent motivation behind Comstockʼs wealthy YMCA benefactors is exposed. Part two comes to a climax at the outset of the Gilded Age when Robert Ingersoll held the nation spellbound with his brilliant lectures proclaiming the gospel of freethought. A time when evolutionism, women's rights and other political, philosophical, scientific and social developments clashed with conservative beliefs and religious orthodoxy. It was the dawn of the culture wars in America when freedom of speech came under attack and freethinkers were prosecuted for their unbelief. “Religion wasnʼt going to go away without a fight,” says Tom Flynn.
© Roderick Bradford 2013